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Guest column by Dori Prado: Living Above The Influence celebrates 10 years

Annual event aims to teach young people to overcome negativity

Published in the October 26 – November 8, 2016 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Dori Prado

Dori Prado

Dori Prado

I can’t believe it’s been 10 years since we started the Living Above The Influence program. We celebrated our community’s youth Oct. 15 under beautiful skies at the Morgan Hill Community and Cultural Center with rap songs, poetry and Aztec dancing as well as positive and encouraging testimonies from youth and adult speakers, sharing their heart-felt stories. To think that this wonderful event — which is such a blessing to many people — all started with struggles and dysfunction in my family.

A decade ago, I learned my 14-year-old daughter started smoking marijuana. I grew scared about the drug use and blamed the friends she was hanging out with for influencing her. After some soul searching, I decided to give up the judgment and find a way to help young people in the community.

I told my father, Steve Prado, about the situation. He was a one-time heroin addict who had turned his life around and became an alcohol and drug counselor. We put on a workshop at Sobrato High School and went to my daughter’s classroom to talk to the students. Somehow, it didn’t seem to be enough. So we came up with the idea of putting on a friendly barbecue at Morgan Hill’s Community Park and inviting my daughter’s teenage friends to come and discuss how to face together life challenges such as drugs, gangs and prison that many young people encounter. We thought we’d have about 15 or 20 kids. We were surprised — and pleased — to see 75 people. It really inspired us to do it again. We called it Living Above The Influence.

My heart softened about these kids and I wanted to find ways to help them. I started asking questions: What kind of homes do they come from? Do they have the support of their family? Their parents must be trying to do their best, but is it enough? What kind of help can the community give these young people?

That park barbecue evolved into a community event that has grown in popularity with hundreds of young people and families. We gather every October at either Community or Galvan parks or the Community Center to listen to stories of young people who have overcome temptations of drugs, alcohol and gangs, or deal with abuse or depression.
During the past 10 years, Living Above The Influence has evolved into a community event that gathers resources for families and at-risk youth and gets speakers to give their testimonies that are encouraging and motivating.

Living Above The Influence is also about exploring real life, enabling young people and adults to find about the things happening with our youth. These include a mother losing her kids to the foster child system because of her own drug addiction. We also hear from teenagers dealing with depression and anxiety and how they’ve found ways to be happier and emotionally healthier.

And we’ve expanded the program to serve youth year-round. We started a weekly get-together called Chill Out that trains young people on basic life skills such as helping them understand about good financial habits as well as the 41 Developmental Assets, qualities in a community that help young people succeed. We also bring in different agencies to conduct sessions on various topics that include anger management, healthy relationships and domestic violence. The program is free and we meet 6 p.m. every Thursday evening at the Community and Cultural Center. If you want to help volunteer, let me know.

People often ask me what Living Above The Influence means. “Is it just about talking about drugs and alcohol?” they ask. “That’s not what it’s about,” I tell them. “It’s about the influences of life.”

What I like to tell the kids is that if there is something that is affecting their everyday productivity, whatever that may be, they will fail in life if they choose to live under that influence. I tell them we all need to live above those negative influences we all face. We need to strive for the best we can be in life. That’s how we can all grow into happy, productive people in our community.

Dori Prado is the founder of Living Above The Influence. She wrote this column for Morgan Hill Life. You can reach her at (408) 390-9012.